Questions on Paleo?
What’s so bad about grains, legumes and dairy?
There’s a good amount of evidence out there that suggests we never fully adapted to digesting grains, legumes, and dairy. Unfortunately, we’ll probably never adapt to them any better than we have already; there simply isn’t enough evolutionary pressure to cause us to adapt, since they’re not our only food source. If they were, those that couldn’t process them correctly would die out before they reached reproductive age, and leave only those with the heartiest stomachs, and the world would be perfect. Individual tolerance varies – some people have no adverse reaction to eating them, while others can’t touch them without feeling sick. I really didn’t know how much my body hated these guys until I removed them from my diet and tried to introduce. Not fun!
Overall, however, there really isn’t much compelling evidence as to why grains should be in our diet in the first place. They are full of Omega-6 fatty acids, which can cause issues with inflammation, the underlying issue with most diseases of the heart (yes, even though the American Heart Association suggests that you eat lots of whole grains). They contain anti-nutrients, gluten, and phytates, which are basically a plant’s defense mechanism to deter animals from eating them. They can cause digestion issues (which then lead to other issues, like autoimmune diseases). They are not agriculturally sustainable (in that they damage soil over the long-term). Sure, they’re cheap to produce right now, but what happens if our topsoil is destroyed? Lastly, they are nutritionally poor compared to meats, vegetables, and fruits; even the nutrients that they do contain (fiber, etc) are not easily digested by our bodies anyway. Wouldn’t you prefer to eat those things that a nutrient-dense? I bet if you ate those fruits, vegetables, and meats you wouldn’t be as hungry and the reasoning being is if you fuel your body with nutrient-dense foods it doesn’t need as much. Food for thought…
So what exactly don’t you eat while eating Paleo?
The list of foods to avoid seems relatively short: grains, legumes, dairy, and sugar. It gets a little more complex once you drive these things down and look at what these foods include. For example, corn is a grain (but a relatively safe grain by many standards). Peanuts aren’t actually nuts; they’re legumes, so they should be avoided. Some dairy products (heavy cream, hard cheeses, butter) are better for you than others (milk) because they’re mostly just fat or the harmful proteins have been processed out of the food. Also off the list are grain and seed derived cooking oils like canola, corn, vegetable, soybean and grapeseed oils. Naturally, taking these ingredients out of your diet also eliminates almost all processed and fast foods.
What about whole grains, I thought they were good for me?
The USDA has skewed all Americans into believing we should consume 6 to 11 servings of grains a day (most of it due to cheap production and government marketing to help aid commerce)! Talk about a lot of empty calories! No wonder you are always eating when you consume grains, they aren’t nutrient-rich! Does it make sense why the government encourages such a high level of grain intake in your diet? You spend more!!
Although there are some good nutritional aspects to grains like certain vitamins & minerals, you can also find them in vegetables (a good source of carbs). In the end, the negatives outweigh the positives.
Grains, a food group that we didn’t eat for 97% of our human existence, aren’t good for most mammals as they cannot be digested properly! Grains contain gluten (aka grain lectin) and phylates. Lectins are resistant to stomach digestion and cause gut inflammation as they destroy the gut lining leading to small “microperforations” or tiny holes in your intestinal lining! These holes allow toxic substances to enter into your bloodstream and can lead to many autoimmune conditions.
Grains are also full of carbohydrates and elevate insulin levels. Processed grains when broken down turn into glucose (blood sugar) quickly. When this process occurs the body responds by releasing insulin to lower the blood sugar. If there is too much blood sugar in the system, your body runs out of places to store it as useful energy, and will store any excess as body fat. If there is too much insulin is in your system, your cells become desensitized and the pancreas is prompted to release even more insulin when your body doesn’t need it. Grains (aka carbs) are making everyone fat and diabetic!
So what exactly DO you eat?
I eat a lot of meat, veggies, tubers – mostly sweet potatoes, some fruits, and healthy fats – mostly from avocado and coconut. I cook with coconut oil, raw butter from grass-fed cows, clarified butter (ghee), and sometimes bacon grease. I also cook with olive oil if it’s used at a lower temperature (sautéing vegetables or in salads, for example). As far as meat goes, I try and get grass-fed beef, pastured pork, eggs, and free-range chicken from local farms when I can afford them. I also try to eat as much wild-caught seafood as possible, living in Florida this is a little easier. I use natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and fruit (dates and bananas) instead of sugar. If you can choose organic fruits and veggies over the supermarket veggies and fruit you’ll be better off too. One of the main reasons being, pesticides! The little bugs the farmers are trying to kill on the fruits and vegetables are in some ways little people. They inhale the pesticides that then go into the lungs and into the heart causing the bug to die. The pesticides we eat are working differently than the bugs because it takes a lot more for us to consume. But think about it, the leading cause of deaths in the US is heart disease. Something that could be linked to the pesticide intake we take in.
Aren’t you going to have high cholesterol and heart disease from eating so much meat and fat?
The main concern most people have with eating saturated fats is due to all the negative publicity stating that saturated fats lead to an increase in cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes. There are all sorts of studies done by people way smarter than me that have found that saturated fats (from grass-fed animals and coconut oil) and monounsaturated fats (from grass-fed dairy, nuts, and olive oil) are good for you and are excellent sources of fuel. Saturated fats actually help heart function and reduce risk for cardiovascular disease by reducing the levels of lipoprotein (LDL) and by raising the level of” good” cholesterol (aka HDL). In addition saturated fats have fatty acids that help strengthen our immune systems and prevent illness and are also necessary for strong bones (they help transport calcium to our bones).
The biggest dietary regulatory body, the USDA, has a mission to promote commodity agriculture (grains and vegetable oils) as a means to make money. Considering our government has recommended tons of grain consumption daily for maximum health for decades and continues to subsidize corn farmers, it’s not too much of a stretch to see why government research into the health hazards of grains has been slow coming. Unfortunately, the dietary advice offered by most doctors is in most cases based primarily on these biased recommendations. Have you watched the movie Food, Inc. Highly recommend you watching this film to get a better look at how the government controls so much of how we eat.
One last thing, staying healthy is also all about regulating your ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Having a ratio of 1:1 is ideal for a healthy heart and systemic inflammation levels, and most likely the ratio our ancestors had back in the day. Omega-3s are found in grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish, while Omega-6 fatty acids are found in grain-fed meats, whole grains, and grain-based oils.
What about carbohydrates?
Many of the Paleo experts recommend a diet of 15-20% carbs or less (50-70% carbohydrate consumption is recommended by the USDA). This of course depends on whether or not you’re trying to lose weight and your activity level. That amount works pretty well for me. I prefer to get my carb intake from a little fruit and sweet potatoes. Some say white potatoes are okay, I just prefer the sweet potatoes. And did you know that Sweet Potatoes are NOT potatoes? they don’t even come from the same plant family! Another thing, Sweet potatoes contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals, such as beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Next question you may ask is where do you get energy if you don’t eat carbs?
Fat is a much more powerful fuel for our bodies than sugar and starch “The human body and brains’ primary source of fuel is designed to be fat in the form of ketones – not glucose,” says Nora Gedgaudas in her book, Primal Body, Primal Mind. When there is an absence of carbs (which is how we evolved to operate), our body will take our stored fat and burn THAT for energy (in a process called ketogenesis). It’s even possible for our bodies to convert protein glucose for energy when necessary. Ketosis occurs when the body is burning fat, not glucose, as its primary fuel. Picture fat as the slow-burning log on the fire and sugar is like paper, which burns very quickly. Basically you can get enough of what your body needs from Paleo diet to thrive just as our ancestors did before bread, bagels, pasta and cake became part of today’s diet. So, less carbs = less glucose in your system, which means your body will have to start burning fat as your fuel source. Win! Win!
It’s not uncommon to derive energy under the Paleo diet percentagewise 50% from fat, 35% from protein and 15% from carbohydrates (complex, not simple), give or take depending on one’s eating habits. Fat and protein together produce a high degree of satiety. Additional elements of Paleo Diet which promote high energy levels are an emphasis on proper hydration as well as improved sleep which is typically a result of this more natural diet.
Don’t you feel like you’re missing out on foods with this restricted diet?
Not in the least. It took a couple weeks for me to adjust to the new diet, but after that it’s been smooth sailing. There are healthy ways to eat most anything, and that’s the whole reason for having this site: although I want to eat healthy foods, I also want to enjoy my meals. The purpose of my site is to create traditional meals that are so good that going out to eat at a restaurant doesn’t feel like a treat. Or it doesn’t taste as good. There is only about two restaurants in my town that I can honestly say their meals rock my world. BUT they are farm to table restaurants that use local organic vegetables and meats. If you ever head to Delray Beach send me an email and I’ll let you know my favorites.
Now some people like to have “cheat days” or “cheat meals” where they just eat whatever and move on; it sounds good in practice, but once I started eating whole foods all the time, a crappy meal would make me pretty sick, so I don’t really have fun “cheating”. Instead, I’d rather make awesome food and never feel like I need to have a “cheat”. I know, I’m not normal…but seriously why eat like crap if you are going to feel like crap?
So are there any downsides to the diet?
Sure. For one, it’s not a very convenient way to eat if you don’t make all your meals at home. Meals bought while on the go are usually things like salads (not very fun) or bunless hamburgers (pretty messy). It’s no fun to go to a restaurant with a group and try to figure out what to order. Or when the waiter gets to you and you ask for the dish without this and that and you have them read it back to you two or three times to make sure they got it right. Trust me, it happens to me all the time. Recently while on vacation the waiter probably thought I was crazy when I asked for no cheese, no bun, no mayo…just the spinach, chicken bacon burger with a side salad with no dressing…just olive oil and balsamic. Think of it this way, you are paying for your meal so you might as well get what you want and like. Just saying…
You also will spend a lot of time fielding questions about your diet. My family and friends think I’m crazy, but I don’t care because I feel great and even my doctor said whatever I’m doing seems to be working because all my tests from my annual check-up turned out great.
The Paleo diet is best described as a baseline diet. Essentially, you eliminate the problem foods (grains, legumes, sugar, and dairy) for a month and re-introduce them to see how your body tolerates them. It’s definitely a process, and even my diet is a work in progress. In my first year I found that I can tolerate a little raw butter but even a trace of wheat makes me feel pretty crappy.